Michael Bell, '84 Discusses How AIA Contract Documents for Small Projects Are Used as an Essential Tool at His Firm
Trends: A Member Discusses How AIA Contract Documents for Small Projects Are Used as an Essential Tool at His Firm
About Michael Bell, AIA, Esq.: Michael Bell is owner and principal of Bell Architects, a New Orleans-based firm specializing in single-family and multi-family residential projects. Michael holds a Masters of Architecture and a Juris Doctor from Tulane University. In addition to his twenty-five years of architectural experience, Michael practiced law for three years, with an emphasis on construction litigation. He has served on AIA's Documents Committee since 2009 and frequently speaks about contract documents. Michael is civically active in the New Orleans community where he takes particular joy in helping nonprofits through the process of designing and constructing their capital projects.
How long has your firm been using AIA Contract Documents?
We have used AIA Contract Documents since our firm’s inception. Having practiced for a while as an attorney focusing on construction law and with several architect clients, I started my architectural practice knowing how seemingly minor provisions in the documents can become very important in the event the unexpected happens. I wanted to be certain that our clients and we were protected by the predictability and consistency that AIA Contract Documents bring to the design and construction process.
As a small firm, why do you think it’s important for small firms to use standard contracts?
No matter what the size of the firm or the size of the project, written contracts are a must so that the parties have a meeting of the minds at the outset, and so as to minimize misunderstandings later. Standard contracts communicate the essentials including the description of the project, what are basic services and what are additional services, the owner’s responsibilities, and compensation. The AIA’s standard contracts have been developed to allocate risks and responsibilities to the parties in the best position to manage them. We have found them to be an invaluable problem-prevention tool. We believe that our clients appreciate the professionalism we demonstrate when we initiate our projects with an AIA contract.
What AIA Contract Documents have you used and why were they a good fit for the project?
We most frequently use AIA’s B101 Owner-Architect Agreement, but sometimes we use the B104 Agreement for a Project of Limited Scope, or the even shorter B105 Agreement for a Residential or Small Commercial Project. We consider the client and the project when we make this choice. The B101 is great, but its size and scope might be disproportionate to that of some projects. Our projects are typically negotiated, cost-plus or put out to bid. Accordingly, for the Owner-Contractor Agreement we often use theA101, A102 and A103 agreements paired with the A201 General Conditions. Again, depending on the client and the project, we sometimes use the A107 Agreement for a Project of Limited Scope, or the A105 Agreement for a Residential or Small Commercial Project. We find the shorter agreements very useful when the larger documents might be overkill and when we might be tempted to use a letter of agreement.
What is the purpose of the Guide to AIA Contract Documents for Small Projects that was released in June?
The Guide for Small Projects was developed to provide a go-to resource for architects primarily practicing in small firms or as sole practitioners. The guide is loaded with information about the documents likely of the greatest interest to such architects. It also points the way to numerous other resources, including further information about these particular documents, a document comparison chart, resources to help the architect draft the documents, and support in using the documents.
How was the Guide to AIA Contract Documents for Small Projects developed?
The Guide for Small Projects was developed over several months by AIA Documents staff and committee members working in collaboration with representative members of the AIA’s Small Project Practitioners Knowledge Community, AIA’s Small Firm Round Table, and AIA’s Custom Residential Architect Network.